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Nuggets.com Q&A: Rex Chapman

Vice President of Player Personnel likes what he sees from Nuggets' core

Remember this shot from the first round of the 1997 NBA Playoffs?!?! Rex Chapman hit a 3-pointer to send Game 4 into overtime...George Karl's Sonics still went on to defeat Phoenix, however.

Rex Chapman never made it out of the first round of the playoffs in his 12-year NBA career. As the Nuggets made their run to the Western Conference Finals last spring, the team's Vice President of Player Personnel was sure to enjoy every minute of the ride.

When the euphoria finally ended with a 4-2 series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Chapman and Denver’s front-office team stepped back and came up with a plan for moving forward in an uncertain economic climate.

The result was a relatively quiet offseason, during which key free agents Linas Kleiza (Greece) and Dahntay Jones (Indiana) signed elsewhere. The Nuggets landed Ty Lawson (North Carolina) on draft night and acquired Arron Afflalo (Detroit) and Malik Allen (Milwaukee) to help fill the gaps, but otherwise put their trust in a nucleus that includes seven of the nine players from coach George Karl’s normal rotation.

Before leaving with the team for China this week, Chapman spent a few minutes with Nuggets.com to talk about the thought process last summer and some of the expectations for 2009-10.

Q: So much talk around the league has centered on high-profile additions in the Western Conference – Ron Artest in L.A., Richard Jefferson in San Antonio, Andre Miller in Portland. Does the fact that your roster remains relatively unchanged say something about the front office’s confidence in this team?

A: It’s kind of two-fold. We liked the core group of guys that we have. In today’s NBA, with the financial structure, it made more sense for us to – I don’t want to say stand pat – but keep our core together and bring in some of the support players to help bolster that core. Plus, when three or four of your core guys are early-to-mid 20s, it’s a natural process for those guys to take another step in their maturity. We’ve still got three guys (Carmelo Anthony, Nene and J.R. Smith) that aren’t at their prime yet. We’re banking on those guys.

Q: Many of the players believe the experience of falling two wins short of the NBA Finals will help them mentally more than anything they could have done physically. Do you agree?

A: No question. Last year, we made a great run and made it to the Western Conference Finals, but I think our lack of experience definitely showed at times in that (Lakers) series. We tried to put up a valiant effort, but eventually that kind of caught up with us. We tried to take two or three steps all at once. It would have been nice to advance and get to the Finals and win a championship, but I don’t know how realistic that is, given we’d only had two roster players that had ever been that far.

Q: You mentioned the young players who haven’t reached their prime. How would you evaluate Nene, Carmelo and J.R.?

A: I’ve seen a real maturation in Nene over the last year and a half, just in his approach to being a real pro - coming in this summer and putting time in the weight room and in practices on the days he doesn’t feel great. Melo’s always been a guy who likes to play, but now, he’s doing extra stuff. He’s in the best shape I’ve seen him in the last four years. That’s saying a lot coming off a summer where he didn’t have Team USA. He had to do it on his own. J.R., we continually want J.R. to improve and mature. He’s had a terrific camp thus far. I know J.R. has his sights set on starting. You could tell this summer he really put the time in. He spent a lot of time in Las Vegas working out with a personal trainer. We hope he can take another step.

Q: When J.R. is focused on passing, playing defense and taking good shots, is he as good as anyone in the game?

A: You’re talking about Kobe Bryant and those type of talents. J.R.’s got that type of talent. The thing that separates guys like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan – that very short list – those guys not only are great athletes, but they have a competitive nature that they don’t ever want to get beat, not during a shootaround, not during a practice, not in the summertime. There’s just an inner drive that propels them. I know with a lot of great athletes in sports, the tendency is to take shortcuts, because you can and you can make up for it. You get lazy and take possessions off, or plays off. That’s what you have to guard against when you’ve got talent coming out of your ears like J.R. does. He’s improving. I would have never guessed that he would be where he is four years ago. I wasn’t confident that he could get to where he is now.

Q: A lot has been made of George Karl entering the final year of his contract. Did a coach’s contract situation ever impact how you approached the game as a player?

A: It really didn’t. I don’t imagine it really registers with these guys either. As a player, you’re just there playing for your coach. I said before, George is who he is and who he’s going to be. That’s why we have him. That’s why Stan (owner Stan Kroenke) has put his faith and trust in him to lead this team. He’s very conscientious. I know he’ll do a terrific job and these guys will respond to him.

Q: The Nuggets were widely predicted to miss the playoffs last season and ended up tying a team record with 54 wins. Is there cause for more excitement now because everyone knows this team’s potential?

A: I’m excited, but it’s going to be tougher this year, no question. You always, as a player, like to beat up on the teams that have beat up on you. We got some licks in last year and teams will definitely have a different mindset when they come to the Pepsi Center and (when) we go on the road to play some of these teams looking forward to a little bit of payback. They’ll be gunning for us.